Agreement on disaster bill
ST. PAUL -- Legislative leaders and Gov. Tim Pawlenty tentatively agreed to spend $80 million on disaster relief, mostly for southern Minnesota communities hit by extensive flooding last month.
Wadena's efforts to recover from a June 17 tornado could get a piece of the appropriations, $750,000 to plan a new community center. Wadena leaders had sought $20.5 million.
Negotiators Tuesday approved the bill, but must wait to make the numbers final for an Obama administration decision whether to declare most of southern Minnesota a flood disaster area. That decision could come at any time.
Once the federal government decides on the disaster declaration, Pawlenty will call a special legislative session that he says will last no longer than a day. That is when lawmakers would appropriate the money.
As a special session appeared to draw near, legislators began floating other ideas they want debated, even though Pawlenty insists it be a brief, one-topic session. Two Minneapolis Democrats plan a news conference today promoting anti-bullying legislation in the special session.
The lead senator on Wadena relief efforts urged lawmakers not to consider bills other than disaster relief.
"I would hope that we keep it pretty narrow and do natural disasters," Sen. Dan Skogen, DFL-Hewitt, said.
The session originally was planned to only deal with flood recovery. Skogen and Rep. Mark Murdock, R-Ottertail, talked to legislative leaders about including Wadena's tornado recovery needs, too.
Skogen said that while the $750,000 in the bill for Wadena's community center is far below the $20.5 million he wanted, it is a start.
"It keeps a placeholder for me to come back," he said, during the 2011 regular legislative session.
Skogen said the project was not fully developed.
"We just hadn't tightened this project down real well..." the freshman senator said after two days in St. Paul promoting it. "They were asking some questions that, quite frankly, I could not answer."
The smaller amount of money would be helpful as the community plans to rebuild faculties lost on June 17, Skogen added.
The Wadena facility would be near or connected to a new high school, replacing one that was destroyed.
"It was important to include this funding now because the city of Wadena is breaking ground in the spring on a new school," said Rep. Kory Kath, DFL-Owatonna. "This planning money will help them identify priorities and determine where they can share space with the community center."
The tornado destroyed a community center (that included an ice rink), an outdoor pool and parts of the fairgrounds. Those facilities would be combined into a new center.
The House late Tuesday afternoon reported the bill would spend $80.1 million on disaster relief and prevention, $10 million more than originally reported. Of that, $38.4 million would come from cash, $36.7 million would be borrowed and $5 would be used from a highway fund.
Legislative leaders did not immediately release a complete breakdown of the funds and the governor's office refused comment until a federal disaster declaration is signed.
The bill crafted over the past several days is designed to pay the state portion of repairs to public facilities ranging from buildings to roads, as well as providing loans to individuals and grants to businesses, Kath said.
An initial estimate of public facility flood damage was set at $64 million.
Federal funds usually pay 75 percent of public facility repair costs.
The legislative measure contains safeguards to prevent misuse of flood-relief money such as is alleged occurred after 2007 southeast Minnesota flooding.
Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Daily Globe.